Gaia Realini is one of the most exciting prospects making their debut in the Women’s WorldTour this season.
The 21-year-old, who raced with the Isolmant-Premac-Vittoria squad in 2023, hasn’t had too many opportunities to show herself against the top racers in the peloton, but she shined when those opportunities came along with two top-15 rides at the Giro d’Italia Donne in 2021 and 2022.
Those performances put her on the radar of the Trek-Segafredo team, who signed her on a three-year deal.
Going from a team that finished just outside of the top-50 in the world rankings to a squad fighting for the top spot has been quite the culture shock.
“For sure, it’s an exciting experience, it’s all new. I come from a small team, so this is a completely new world to be discovered,” Realini told VeloNews, through the helpful translation of team press officer Paolo Barbieri.
“I am proud of the faith that the team has put in me. For me, it is a demonstration that I’ve been able to show something good and now the goal is to repay the team for that faith.”
Realini will be among a star-studded list of riders in her new team, but there is one in particular that she is thrilled to be lining up alongside: Paris-Roubaix champion Elisa Longo Borghini.
“I remember watching Elisa Longo Borghini racing when I was younger. Watching her race also made me passionate about cycling. I used to think about racing in the same peloton as her and now to be in the same team is a dream for me,” she said.
Realini has been racing since she was seven, having picked up the cycling bug from her father. Her passion for cycling was evident very quickly and she actually failed to finish her first race because she was just too excited.
She’s managed to wrangle that excitement over the years and put it into her performances. She still thrives on the bike and feeds off the challenge it gives her.
“I like to suffer. The suffering that cycling gives you, gives me adrenaline and that’s what I love the most about it. In training, I can also go in competition with myself and it’s this kind of feeling that lights the fire inside of me,” Realini said.
A budding GC star
With a three-year contract securing her place at Trek-Segafredo through 2025, Realini has plenty of time to develop as a rider.
She is hoping to absorb as much knowledge as possible over the coming season before taking up her own chances as a leader later on.
“Being able to share the road with such big names is something that makes me excited and proud. My first goal with my teammates is to be available and be at the disposal of them in the race and help them,” Realini said.
“The first year will be about learning how the team works and then for sure the second and third year will be about having the opportunity from the team to show my talent and be the captain in some races that suit my characteristics.”
While she’s shown some talent in the fields of cyclocross, it is the mountains where she has the most promise in recent seasons. Coming in at just 1.5 meters tall, she has the physique to suit the discipline and is dwarfed by almost everyone around her.
Realini took a dominant win in the mountains classification at the Giro Toscana last season, but her biggest result was 13th overall at the Giro d’Italia Donne — she also took 11th at the race the previous season.
She shone on the biggest stages at last year’s Giro, taking seventh on the summit finish to Passo Maniva where she finished 2:13 behind the day’s winner Juliette Labous and just 33 seconds down on Annemiek van Vleuten. While she suffered on an explosive stage the following day, Realini picked herself up to take a strong fifth-place finish on the final mountain stage, finishing 30 seconds down on Van Vleuten and her hero Longo Borghini.
Realini definitely has some promise as a GC rider, but she knows that she has to work on her abilities in the time trial, where she lost a minute to Kristen Faulkner in the 4.8km prologue at the Giro.
“Being able to ride the Giro d’Italia Donne the last two years was a huge experience. To be able to fight for GC and race for GC was something that made me really proud and happy,” she said.
“The GC could be a goal [in the future]. I have the right characteristics, especially in the mountains but I also know that I have big room for improvement in other things like the time trial and descents. For sure, being a GC rider is something that I can focus on.”